Interview: Intern Magazine’s Alec Dudson

Determined to provide a platform for the essential debate over interning, Alec Dudson launched Intern Magazine two years ago.

Since then, Intern has worked with some of the biggest and smallest names in the industry – all of whom were paid for their contributions – to host a balanced, unbiased and frank discussion on the topic of Internships.

For their most recent issue, Intern focused on education, examining in depth educations relationship with and impact on todays internship culture. From it’s stunning cover photo – a powerful  image by photographer Luke Evans entitled ‘Making the Jump’ which symbolises the soft landing that higher education is supposed to provide graduates with when entering the job market – to the closing feature on Ryan Gander’s ambitious plans to launch his own art school, the Education issue is presents a plethora of bold, brave ideas.

We sat down with Intern editor and founder Alec Dudson to discuss the origins of the magazine and how the concept has evolved..

Intern magazine takes Education as it’s central theme – was this the plan from the outset?

It wasn’t something we planned per se, but is rather the result of our open submissions policy. It’s important to me that the magazine is genuinely representative of the community it represents, after all, we claim to be “for and by the creative youth”. One of the chief means of ensuring that’s the case is by letting some of the story ideas we get sent shape the issue. The process from submission to final feature is a little more complex than that, but it emerged quite early on that there was a recurring theme with some of the most interesting pitches. It’s probably not a huge surprise that ‘Education’ cropped up considering the mag’s focus and readership, but we had a really nice mix of pieces that I felt were worthy of being presented in a new way.

Will future issues be similarly themed?

I’m not in any huge rush to make future issues themed from now on. I find some magazines that rely on a theme tend to miss the point, many of them don’t even address the theme, it’s just an evocative word to put on the cover.

Concept will always be central to Intern, so it’s important that we only take on themes and ideas we can do justice to, and offer something of value on.

I’d been put off themes prior to Issue Three as they sounded like a challenge better suited to investigative journalism. The time that approach takes (researching an idea from scratch) can be a stretch on our budget. We pay everyone, but as we’re only small, I have to control the amount of work people do, so that their pay balances their input. I don’t know if it will manifest into a theme, but we have a feature I’m very excited about for Issue Four which looks at how we define ‘talent’.

Ryan Gander is interviewed in the latest issue about his new art school Fairfield International. Can you tell us a bit more about this? How did you find the experience?

Ryan is a really interesting, articulate and passionate guy. I’d found out about Fairfield just as we started work on Issue Three and it was a concept that really appealed to me so there was little hesitation when it came to getting in touch. We met for an initial chat a few weeks later when he was in Manchester for the unveiling of a new piece of work and it was clear from the start that equal access to the art world was something he had a real passion for. It’s something I’m also trying to aid, albeit in a different manner, with intern so I think our shared ideals made for a good base to work from.

I keep trying to remove myself from the magazine as an author, but getting to spend a day with people like Ryan is a real highlight, it’s always inspiring to talk to someone about their work or a project that really drives them.

On top of everything else, Ryan’s tenacity and dedication really stuck with me, as you’ll know from the feature, it’s a process that’s been beset by an awful lot of red tape, yet amidst all the other things he has on the go, he still has the drive to make Fairfield a reality. I really want to visit when it’s open and see how his vision has come together.

Any other highlights?

I would feel awful picking one as all our contributors have been fantastic. It was a new and fun challenge creating a cover that responds to and epitomises a theme. Once the theme emerged, I was excited to undertake that process and working on it with Luke Evans was a joy. He’s one of the most incredible conceptual artists I’ve come across in all my time working on Intern, I’m thrilled with the image and the response to it.

Going back to the very beginning of Intern Magazine, how did the idea of launching the magazine come to you? And how long did it take to make it a reality?

It emerged from my internship with Boat Magazine drawing to a close. I’d loved my time there under the stewardship of Davey and Erin Spens and knew that indie magazines were what I wanted to try to carve a career in. I wasn’t any closer to landing a paid position though, the mags I loved and wanted to work for like Boat usually used freelancers and I didn’t feel like I was up to that route at the time. I started to play around with ideas I guess initially, in a bid to stay involved in the industry. The idea that kept coming back to me was this one about internships and creating something that could be more than a magazine, that had genuine value as a resource for people faced by the point in their careers that internships had come to occupy.

I figured that at the time, no-one was prepared to talk about internships, yet there was plenty of people who needed that conversation to take place. I started working on the idea in January 2013, launched our Kickstarter campaign in July and released the first issue in September. I remember telling myself the first issue would be out by May, but that was before I’d realised just how much of an undertaking the project was going to be with a single person at the helm.

Why do you think the ongoing debate over internships has picked up a pace recently?

In a world where internships continue to take many shapes and forms, a good deal of which are unsavoury, I think an ongoing dialogue is beneficial to everyone involved. For the people doing them, being able and having the confidence to sort the bad from the good can help you progress your career in a timely fashion. For companies who take interns on (or want to), it’s pretty important to know what’s legal and illegal and make decisions on recruitment with the benefit of a range of perspectives. I think it’s a pretty short-sighted opinion to suggest that only one party can benefit from an internship. With a bit of consideration and effort, the biggest and smallest studios/firms/businesses can get a great deal out of a new recruit. If they’re trained and treated with respect, they could have a profoundly positive effect.

Treating people like un or underpaid labour and moving them on when they get fed up isn’t going to get you very far at all. We can always stand to learn from others, the internship debate is just another example of that.

Can you tell us about your personal experiences as an intern?

I did two, the first was an 8 week spell in Milan with Domus, the second, 7 months in London with Boat. The first was paid, the second unpaid. At the time, I had no relevant qualifications or much in the way of experience in mags, just a Sociology Masters, 6 months running a wordpress site and a cv full of bar work. Despite that, Vera Sacchetti the then web editor at Domus took a chance on me. A Skype interview later and I was moving to Milan in 6 weeks’ time. Initially, I was just looking to work out whether or not the magazine world was one that I wanted to work in. During my time in Milan, I met some amazing people and started learning about all kinds of brilliant projects. It was a great experience that introduced me to the design world and whet my appetite for delving further into publishing.

Boat was the magazine that got me into indie mags. It was the first time I was published in print and it meant so much to me.

I’d borrowed a copy of the Sarajevo issue from a friend and they were one of the places I applied to intern at back when I got the Domus gig. I hadn’t heard anything for a couple of months and then just after I returned to the UK and moved down to London, Erin got in touch and invited me in to meet Davey. That was it, I was set. All I wanted to do was spend as much time at Boat as possible and see how the operation ran. I went in Monday-Friday most weeks for seven months and worked in a pub in the evenings, staying on a bunch of friends couches for the entirety. It was exhausting and I couldn’t have done it without having saved up some cash from my prior bar work, but it was an amazing experience. The highlight was going to Athens and being part of the fourth issue. It was the first time I was published in print and it meant so much to me.

Intern actively encourages debate throughout the magazine, yet it still manages to present it in a well balanced way. Is it difficult to strike a balance when there are two sides to the argument?

It’s something that I’ve always felt vital to Intern serving the most effective and approachable function. My personal opinions on internships and the magazine’s stance always have to be two separate things. Once that’s established, being able to take a step back the only challenge. Our editorial team pick features together and it’s a democracy. A few times, I’ve really liked an idea and it hasn’t been voted in, that’s important though as we want to deal in a variety of perspectives and indie mags are guilty of singular perspectives quite often. Other than that, we’re always keen to keep the paid vs unpaid count pretty similar, as that helps to ensure we don’t come across as biased on that element of the discussion.

All of your contributors are paid – has this been difficult to manage? Why do you feel this is an important policy to have?

It’s something that is crucial to the entire concept of the magazine as what we’re saying is that these people’s work has value. It would totally undermine things if we were to talk about how brilliant our contributors are but not pay them for their work.

It’s not easy paying everyone, but the moment we can’t, the magazine will cease to exist. It’s purpose is to empower young creatives, not profit at their expense.

Often, it’s the first time contributors have invoiced anyone for their work and it’s great that we get to teach them how and instil the confidence in them to only work for pay in the future. I like to think that everyone who has ever worked on Intern is part of a big family and it’s a family built on mutual respect. Magazines would be nothing without their contributors, many of them need to adjust their attitude to reflect that.

Are there particular people in the industry whose opinion on interning you’d like to get?

I’m already blown away by some of the industry heavyweights we’ve managed to recruit. Ryan, Jessica Walsh, James Victore, Mike Perry, Jean Jullien, Mr Bingo and Adrian Shaughnessy have all been great but I get as excited about all the emerging creatives we work with as I do the pros. Anyone with an interesting take on the scenario is a dream contributor and we’re already in talks with some fantastic folk about Issue Four. I have to keep names quiet for now though!

If you could introduce 3 internship-related laws what would they be?

1. Internships to be paid at a living wage (actively enforced, as difficult and costly as that would be)

2. Hefty fines for businesses who mis-sell underpaid labour as “internships”

3. Statutory employment rights for all interns, regardless of length of internship.

Finally, any advice for someone wanting to start their own magazine?

It depends on what their intentions for the mag are to a degree, but for me, concept is king. You’ve got to bring something genuinely different to the table if you’re going to get past a couple of issues as the market is already flooded. If you’ve got heaps of cash behind you, or are producing the magazine as a personal showcase/portfolio piece you can probably go about things a slightly different way. If you’re starting small though, you’ll live or die by your concept. Research what’s out there and make sure your concept extends naturally through every element of your operation.


Posted on Aug 19th, 15 by

Greg McIndoe - also known as Headless Greg - is an illustrator and design writer based in Glasgow, Scotland. He regularly writes for design magazines and online platforms, interviewing fellow illustrators and leading creatives.

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